Interview: Not so fast!

In IT, talented young people can move up fast -- too fast, says Kathy E. Kram, professor of organizational behavior at the Boston University School of Management. Aggressive young managers promoted before they've had enough time and experience to develop emotional maturity to match their technical skills are almost sure to derail somewhere along the line. In a recent Harvard Business Review, Kram and co-authors Kerry A. Bunker and Sharon Ting suggest five strategies for boosting emotional competencies in rising stars and helping those who are already paying a price for emotional deficits. Kram talked with Kathleen Melymuka about her work's implications for IT.

Q: What's wrong with promoting smart young people based on talent and business results? There's nothing wrong with it per se. It's when they're promoted so fast they don't have the opportunity to develop relationship skills needed at higher levels.

This must be particularly true in IT where so much value is placed on technical skills and talent. Right. We see people in IT being promoted to project management jobs without an appreciation for how to facilitate teamwork. We see people in IT being promoted with no idea of how to supervise and manage other people. They're great technically but haven't been assisted in developing leadership skills.

Q: How does a supervisor help a young hotshot IT manager realize she's not ready for prime time? By creating opportunities for her to get direct feedback on her behavior. Lots of companies are starting to offer not only performance reviews but [360- degree] feedback, from peers, bosses and subordinates. They also offer the opportunity to really reflect on the feedback in an educational setting or with a coach. That helps to develop self-awareness and identify areas where they need to develop new skills.

Q: Isn't it enough to point out a new manager's failings and let him work on them?You can do that, but all of us need help in learning new skills, especially emotional competencies. Often it's not apparent what I need to do differently, so having a coach or an educational setting where I can actually practice and be exposed to new ways of doing things can help -- especially if it includes role plays, case studies, ways of trying out new behaviors.

Q: What is emotional maturity, and how do people develop it?We've been working with the notion of emotional competence, which Daniel Goleman developed a couple of years ago. He's the co-director of the Consortium for Research on Emotional Intelligence in Organizations. He suggests that there are basically two kinds of emotional intelligence: personal competence and social competence. Within each of those larger groups, there is awareness and ability to regulate or manage.

For example, self-awareness is the basic building block for emotional competence because the better you know yourself in terms of how you react to situations and people, the more capable you are of developing the ability to build relationships with people you have to work with. Emotional competence develops over the life course. Some people have it naturally early in life, but for the most part, only with life experience do we develop these competencies.

Emotional maturity is the set of competencies that allow you to work effectively in whatever environment you find yourself.

Q: How can a supervisor help a young IT manager develop personal relationships if the manager never felt he needed relationships to succeed? Point out that if he's seeking a promotion, it's very likely he will be in positions where it's required to have relationships. If he's not yet aware of that, you might ask him to talk with people in the company he admires who are in those kinds of positions. He'll see that people put a high value on relationship skills.

You also say cross-functional assignments can help. Yes. You can give an assignment that requires him to work with people in other functional areas. He'll find that while he may be good at supervision, when it comes to influencing people not directly in his area of supervision, he needs other skills: influencing, building informal relationships, negotiating. A lot can be learned through experience, so giving him a task force or other assignment that requires going across department boundaries can be very, very helpful.

Q: Might an aggressive young manager feel marginalized by a cross-functional assignment?Yes. Very often they do, especially if they're taken out of their regular job. They may see it as leading nowhere. The key is to identify it as a developmental assignment to help them develop skills to get where they want to get to. That can be done in the context of an annual plan, a performance review or other formal mechanisms.

Q: You say it's important for supervisors to model self-development, not just preach it. How do they do that? We write about senior executives who actually say to direct reports, "I have personal development goals for myself." One of these people talked about needing to learn to listen and ask for advice. He told his direct reports and enlisted them in his development. He asked them to give him feedback on how well he was doing on those development goals, so he's modeling what he wants people in his organization to do.

That must reduce the fear that admitting you have a deficit is a sign of weakness. Yes, and over the long term, that can really have an effect on the culture of your organization. If you're part of a smaller organization, just one senior manager can make a really big difference.

What It TakesHere's a list of seven personal qualities and competencies researchers say employees need to be successful managers:

Innovation

Understanding your creative style, coupled with an ability to generate creative responses to business problems.Self-Awareness
Knowing your strengths and weaknesses, plus having the drive to improve your capabilities.Intuition
Using instinct, hunches and feelings along with facts and information to guide decision-making.Emotions
Recognizing and understanding your feelings and emotions, and managing their impact on other people.Motivation
Striving to achieve, and exhibiting energy, initiative and persistence.Empathy
Taking an interest in people, and listening to their views, problems and concerns.Social Skills
Building relationships with people, and communicating with them effectively.

Source: Consortium for Research on Emotional Intelligence in Organizations, Piscataway, N.J.

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